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My new life in Hong Kong
“Wai Lan! Wai Lan! Wake up!” I awoke to the sound of my grandfather shouting, and realized from the tone of his voice that something was urgent. I jumped out of my hardboard bed and then brushed my teeth. I brushed carefully as I wouldn’t brush my teeth again in the night. Then I rushed towards the table where a bowl of thin congee and my grandfather were waiting. I quickly scooped up the congee and swallowed it. The congee was made with only ¼ rice and ¾ water to make large portions out of only a handful of rice.
As I ate, my grandfather started speaking to me. “Wai Lan, we will leave today for Hong Kong. We will not come back.”
I immediately choked and my eyes filled with tears. “You mean we will never ever come back?”
My grandfather sighed and nodded. “Yes, Wai Lan.”
I immediately started sobbing and ran to my grandmother who was in the kitchen. “Grandmother! Do I really have to leave for Hong Kong and not come back here?”
My grandmother sighed. “Yes, Wai Lan. You will have to go to Hong Kong. Your parents are waiting for you there.”
I sobbed again. “But why?”
My grandmother replied, “Dear, Hong Kong will be a much better place. You know here in China, all the money goes to the government and we have to do whatever the government says and worship Mao Zedong and his Communist Party. You know that whoever insults him will be in deep trouble. But in Hong Kong it is different. You will be free.”
I was immediately made a bit happier by her speech. “But will I ever see you again?”
My grandmother nodded. “Yes you will.”
Happy again, I then packed my things and left with my grandfather. As we walked away, the village became much smaller and just before it vanished out of view; I spotted my grandmother waving at me. I smiled and waved back. Then the village vanished over the horizon.
The next day, my grandfather and I got on a bus to Guangzhou. The bus was small, dark and crowded. I was suddenly very scared to be on such a crowded and small bus. Thankfully, my grandfather reassured me that everything would be fine. The bus then rattled off.
“Grandfather, what will be next?”
My grandfather replied, “We will first go to Guangzhou, where will then catch another bus to Shenzhen. Your father will be waiting for you in Shenzhen. After that, we will catch a train to Hong Kong, where you will see how beautiful a city Hong Kong is.”
Reassured by these calm words, I lay back in my seat and relaxed. Six hours later, we finally reached Guangzhou. We quickly collected our things and then got off the bus.
“Hold on tight, Wai Lan! Be careful not to get trampled!”
I nodded and followed my grandfather off the bus on to the bus stop. We then started waiting for the bus to take us to Shenzhen. After 2 hours of waiting, another bus came to the bus stop. The bus was pretty much the same to the one we got on earlier, except that it was even smaller and it was pretty crowded already. Shaking with fear, grandfather and I wedged ourselves into the bus, pretty much like sardines in a can. The bus then set off again.
As the bus went around a sharp turn, there was a squeal followed by a few screams from the front of the bus, followed by my own scream. Since the bus was so crowded, one man was squashed against the door. When the bus went around the corner, the door gave away to the man’s weight and the man fell out. The bus immediately stopped.
“Oh grandfather!” I cried. “Will he be okay?”
My grandfather nodded. “Of course, Wai Lan. There is nothing to worry about. People falling out are a common thing on these buses.”
I shook with fear. I couldn’t imagine how painful it was to fall out of a bus while it was moving. The man that had fallen out was lying on the tarmac, and had to be helped up by my grandfather and another man.
“You don’t have to worry, Wai Lan! He’s only got a few cuts and bruises!”
After the man had got back on the bus, the bus rattled off again. For the rest of the journey I stayed away from the door, scared that I would fall out. After a few hours, we arrived at Shenzhen. When I got off the bus, I spied my father waiting for me.
“Father!” I cried before running forward to greet him. He laughed and hugged me tightly. “Hello, Wai Lan! I hope you had a safe journey!”
“I did! But a man accidentally fell out of the bus while we were coming here.”
My father smiled. “Come on, Wai Lan! I’ll bring you to the train station and we can take the train to Hong Kong.”
As we went, I asked him a question, “What’s a train like? Will we fall of the train?”
My father laughed. “Don’t worry, Wai Lan! You won’t fall off the train. In fact, it is much safer then buses!”
When we went to the train station, my father gave our tickets to the ticket collector before we were allowed to the train platform. The moment I saw the gleaming train, my heart jumped. “Wow!” I gasped. “It’s so big!” My father smiled.
“Hurry, Wai Lan! Get on before the train moves off!”
I laughed and we all went onto the train and settled into our seats. As the train moved off, I looked out of the window and saw everything fly pass. As the train went faster and faster, I realized that I would be leaving China very soon.
One hour later, we were at the borders of China, where the train stopped. I was very surprised and asked my father why.
“We will have to get off the train and to the customs area. Then officials will ask you for papers!”
We then had to get off the train and into several lines. At the front of each line was a small booth where an official sat. All the people had to pass their papers to the official and after checking, the official would either let them pass or if the papers were false or were not in order, would not let them pass.
A frightening moment came when in the line beside me, a man got suspected of carrying false papers. The man had seen the official seem to make phone calls and then saw some other officials approaching him, so he made a run for it. But the officials were after him in a flash, and he was soon caught and arrested. The man tried to struggle, but the officials were too strong and he was held very tightly. Then he disappeared and I never saw him again.
After that, I was very scared every time somebody got questioned. When it was my turn, I was more scared than ever. The official was extremely rude and rough. He shouted out, “What is your name?” Trembling, I managed to blurt out the correct answers and he returned the papers to me. After everybody had finished, I followed my father away from the China custom office building across the bridge to the Hong Kong custom office building. Thankfully, the officials were much more polite this time. Instead of shouting out questions, they asked the questions in a much more polite tone. I was very happy to be away from the China custom office building. Then we went back to the train.
After an hour later, we arrived at Tsim Sha Tsui. I was thirsty and hungry by then. The moment I got my first glimpse of Hong Kong, my jaw dropped. Hong Kong was beautiful! There were hundreds of buildings, things that I have never seen before. I felt so free!
When my father saw my amazement, he laughed. “Beautiful isn’t it, Wai Lan?”
Then the city was full of bright electric lights, also things that I had never seen before. Back in my village, we used kerosene lanterns. The moment I got off, I made a mental photograph of Hong Kong in the winter of 1961.
After we got off, my father took me and my grandfather to the pier where we took a ferry to Central. On the ferry I was a bit frightened because the sides were very low and I was afraid that somebody might fall off the edge. But my father reassured me.
“Don’t worry, Wai Lan! The chances of falling off the edge are ridiculously tiny.”
Then my father brought me to a restaurant where I was amazed at the brilliant food there. Because I had only eaten thin congee all my life, the BBQ pork rice I eaten seemed like the food of the gods. Then we went back home. On the way, I saw a poster and tried to read the writing on it. However, I couldn’t read traditional Chinese, I couldn’t read the writing at all! And when a passer-by spoke, I couldn’t understand what she was saying because I couldn’t understand Cantonese! I explained my problems to my father, who said that I would learn fairly quickly.
When we got to my parents’ apartment, I was amazed. It had electric lights, running water and a flushing toilet! And the bed had a mattress! I was very happy about it. That night, as I slept, I glanced out of the window and saw lots of bright lights everywhere. But then I thought of home, and I immediately felt very sad that my grandmother wasn’t here and she wouldn’t get to see this wonderful view. Then I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, my father told me, “Wai Lan, You’re 15 years old now. According to the law, you can go to work. And we need some money to survive, so it’s best for you to go and get a job.”
My father quickly found a job for me in a leather belt-making factory. Although the other workers did not speak to me, my boss was very nice to me. I could have got a better job, but because the government did not recognize my education and I had no money to continue going to school, I was forced to work in a factory where you did not need education to work in.
All the time, I learnt Cantonese and traditional Chinese. Then I met another immigrant from China called Lee Yet Hoi. Although he had also emigrated from China, his immigration was illegal and he had avoided the police by hiking over hills where the police didn’t bother to look. I liked him immediately, and years later we married and had five children.
Thinking about it now, I realize what a clever thing it was to move to Hong Kong. I really enjoy the life here. I now only visit my relatives in China during Chinese New Year and I have decided not to return to China to live.
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